2016: Terry Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, delivers the ninth annual Theos lecture
Freedom and Order: History, Politics and the English Bible
1st May 2011
The influence of the Bible – particularly the King James Bible - on English literature and culture is widely celebrated. By contrast, its impact on British politics is unknown, underplayed or altogether ignored.
Nick Spencer challenges this conventional wisdom, arguing that the Bible is perhaps the single most influential document in British political history.
Building on the idea that it contains two powerful but apparently contradictory political themes – the right to be free, and the need for political order – Spencer traces the Bible’s immense influence on national politics: from its role in the formation of national identity and in setting limits on kingship in Anglo-Saxon times, through its impact on ideas of tolerance, democracy and equality, to its subtle influence on the Welfare State, and within the rhetoric of modern Prime Ministers.
Freedom and Order shows how, without the Bible, British political history would have been incomparably different, and suggests that only by continuing to hold its twin themes of freedom and order in creative tension can we hope to maintain a healthy political culture.
'Nick Spencer ranges stylishly over English history from Saint Augustine's landing in Kent to Saint Tony Blair and beyond, richly documenting how this realm of England was a biblically based culture even before the realm of England was invented. Clarity and learning lightly worn make this book stand out from the herd in this year celebrating King James's contribution to biblical translation.'
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford
'For anyone freshly curious to understand that jagged and sometimes bloodstained terrain between religion and politics, Church and State in these islands, this is the book for you. Nick Spencer is an ace historical cartographer of that landscape; a guide of fluency and judgement for those who wish to cross it from the seventh century to the present day.'
Lord Peter Hennessy, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary, University of London.
'In a book that somehow manages to be both sweeping and concise, Nick Spencer demonstrates just how much the political culture of Britain owes to that massive seedbed of ideas, the Bible.'
Tom Holland, historian and author of Rubicon